In nine days, Maryland football will open its 2019 season at home against Howard University. It’s the first game of the Mike Locksley era, which has caused a high level of anticipation for the Terps. Come Week 1, they’ll have new systems, both offensive and defensive, in place, and no one really knows what the Terps will look like against the Bison.
Along that same vein, there is one looming question regarding Maryland football: who is the quarterback?
As it stands right now, the Terps don’t have a starting signal caller. It’s a deep position room, as there are three legitimate options who could potentially get the nod. There has already been one serious injury in the group, but for now, everyone else is healthy. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Josh Jackson and Tyrrell Pigrome have set themselves apart.
After the final scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, Locksley said that the battle for quarterback has become a two-man race, and he’s been hinting for weeks that it’s been between Jackson and Pigrome.
The Terps made headlines when Jackson announced he was transferring to College Park back in February, adding to the excitement level exponentially. The quarterback position has been one of the weak spots of Maryland football for years, and it seemed as though Jackson could change all that.
His 2018 season was cut down in Week 3 with a fractured fibula, and to that point, Jackson had completed 36-of-58 (62.1 percent) passes for 575 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. As a redshirt freshman in 2018, he started all 13 games and led all Power Five freshmen with 2,991 yards and 236 completions. He ranked second among that group with 20 touchdowns as well.
There’s no doubt that Jackson has talent, but arriving on campus after spring camp had already set him behind the eight-ball a bit. However, he’s still been able to impress in the shorter timeframe.
“I thought coming out of the scrimmage [on Aug. 10], Josh did a really good job of taking care of the football,” Locksley said on Aug. 12. “I think he ended up in a good situation with scoring points with his drive opportunities.” The coach has said numerous times that the guy that protects the ball and limits turnovers will earn the starting role.
In spring camp, there were only three quarterbacks who received ample playing time, including Pigrome. That paved the way for the established option to get a leg up on the competition, allowing himself to get familiar with the new offense.
At Wednesday’s practice, Pigrome started with the first-team offense, but a rotation was evident in the 20-minute block of open practice. There’s been mixing and matching throughout all of fall camp thus far, however, so there’s not much to glean.
But either way, Pigrome, now a redshirt junior, has impressed Locksley and the staff greatly.
“I think the competition has really forced [Pigrome] to step it up,” Locksley said on Aug. 12.
While he has a lot of experience, his biggest weakness has been accuracy in his passing. Thus far into his collegiate career, Pigrome has relied on his athleticism to make plays. But according to the new head coach, he’s made great strides in throwing the ball.
“Coming out of the spring, I was maybe a little disappointed in his ability to throw the football the way we are going to want to have to throw it,” Locksley said. “He’s throwing the ball to the right places, he knows where to go with it. He’s taking all the coaching and has a good understanding of the system which I think has helped him.”
“I continue to see improvement in Piggy as a competitor, but also throwing the football,” Locksley said Saturday. “We were trying to emphasize throwing the ball a little more.”
The rest have impressed, but are firmly on the outside.
Outside of the two favorites for the job, Maryland has five other quarterbacks on the roster. The most experienced of the bunch is redshirt junior Max Bortenschlager, who had a solid spring camp and Red-White Game performance. However, he was announced to have a stress fracture by Locksley on Saturday, sidelining him for roughly two months.
Tyler DeSue, who took a redshirt last season after appearing in four games as a freshman, also had a terrific start to spring camp. In the spring game, he was named the most valuable player, throwing for 218 yards on 23-of-35 (65.7 percent) passing with a pair of touchdowns and a 136.9 passer rating. He’s still in the mix for a high spot on the depth chart, but it seems his ceiling is the No. 3 spot due to a lack of consistency.
“He’s turned that thing over a little bit, and we’ve got to get him taking care of the ball,” Locksley said on Aug. 12. “He’ll throw an interception, and then he’ll come right back and his ball will be a strike touchdown throw. We just got to get a little more consistency out of him.”
Four-star recruit Lance LeGendre, star of Netflix’s reality show “QB1: Beyond the Lights,” is looking to be the third or fourth quarterback on the depth chart. As a freshman, he didn’t arrive in College Park until the summer, and he’s had to pick up the offense very quickly. He’s reportedly shown a ton of potential, meaning the future at the position may be very bright for Maryland.
“I thought Lance, with his first opportunity to go inside the shell in a game-like situation, I thought he showed good poise for a young quarterback and made some plays,” Locksley said on Aug. 12. “He’s a guy that has the ability to make plays with his arm and his feet.”
But barring any drastic injuries to the rest of the room, LeGendre likely to take a redshirt this season.
The other two passers on the roster, redshirt sophomore Donny Sanders and true freshman Eric Najarian, are walk-ons. Both are likely to serve as depth options only, and they could find themselves on the scout team going forward this season.
A final decision could still be days away.
Following the scrimmage on Saturday, Locksley pointed out the importance of keeping everything consistent heading into the game against Howard. That includes having a starting quarterback in place by “Sunday or Monday,” allowing the guy who gets the nod to work with the first-team offense and gameplan for an entire week.
It’s going to be either Jackson or Pigrome who ends up earning the job. The former brings experience of playing at a very high level in a Power Five conference, while the latter has a lot of time in the program and has reportedly made great strides. Whoever wins the battle, however, will not only be tasked with producing on the field as part of a new offense, but they’ll also shoulder the responsibility of ushering in a new era of Maryland football.